Monday, 11 April 2011

Bite 89: Anthony Van Dyck - Charles I in Armour, c. 1639

Charles I in Armour, c. 1639, oil on canvas, 103 x 81 cm, private collection
Anthony Van Dyck depicts King Charles I in opulently shining black armour surrounded by various symbols of his kingship and military power. He is presented as an armoured knight, complete with gold sword at the ready, subtly reflected off the armour plating. 

He stands beside his crown firmly holding his commander’s baton before him diagonally, compositionally underscoring the bright reflection on his chest and the position of his arms. Behind the crown his knight’s helmet, complete with plumage, indicating his duel role as monarch and military commander. Opposite, handsome burgundy drapery falls behind the king offsetting the still life. 

Around his neck a thick gold chain displays a gold medallion with the image of Saint George and the Dragon, symbolic of his role as Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. Known as the Lesser George, Charles wore the medallion constantly as he saw in the prominent military saint, St. George, the Patron Saint of England, many of his own ideals of chivalry integral to his concept of kingship. His relaxed yet alert expression further reflects these ideals. 

Van Dyck has subtly and skilfully widened the eyes and extended the mouth to portray an open countenance exuding the compassion and strength of a man in whom immense trust is placed. His eyes glisten in a direct gaze reinforcing this response. 

Jonathan Brown points out, “Van Dyck’s formal portraits of Charles I are justly considered to be among the most beautiful, persuasive images of monarchy ever painted. Imbued with grace and created with apparently effortless execution, they express an image of court governed by the ideals of kingship.”

Over the next week I will explore and compare the 17th century royal portraiture of Van Dyck and Velázquez.